The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

How A 13 Year Old Boy Was More Effective Than All The Brand Consultants In The World Put Together …
April 17, 2008, 7:15 am
Filed under: Comment

I wasn’t bullied too much as a kid but I did experience it.

Luckily my best friend Paul, was very tall so I tended to be left alone – at least till they found out he was a wimp – however I did see what it did to other kids and quite frankly, it was horrendous.

Let me say quite categorically that bullying is evil and I hate how some people can brush it off as ‘childish pranks’ or simply a ‘byproduct of an over pampered society’.

Sure both those things exist, however bullying is something very different

At its heart, bullying is mental and physical cruelty …

Not the odd thing which causes you to cry or feel sad, I’m talking about the relentless provoking that ends up destroying a young persons hopes, dreams and potential – and without those things, they have no reason to try, no reason to explore, no reason to live.

I know that sounds dramatic, but for many that’s how it feels.

The reason I am writing this is because I’ve just read a news report about a 13 year old boy called Andrew Johnson who has appeared on the TV show, ‘Britain’s Got Talent’.

Andrew loves to sing.

Infact from age 6 he has been filling the air with music – not just the popular stuff, but requiem’s.

The thing is, because this is not what kids are supposed to do [as written in some invisible code-of-youth-conduct] he has been bullied mercilessly for it.

And to make it even harder, he lives on a Council Estate where the ability to live privately is severely diminished.

In short, he is a victim of both his age and his environment.

However this little guy hasn’t let the bullying get him down. 

His response has been to just keep on singing because as he say’s …

“I don’t want to be hanging around the streets, I want to make something of my life”.

However while that is obviously true, you could see as he took to the stage that he wasn’t just nervous, he was scared.

Scared that he was about to make a big mistake.

Scared he was about to attract even more bullying that ever before.

Scared the thing that he has held onto for protection was going to be revealed as a sham.

But he needn’t of worried because quite frankly, he was amazing …

Not because he is a kid of 13.

Not because he is a victim of bullying.

Not because he lives on a Council Estate.

But because he is great – truly, magically great.

Now here’s the thing, while I have had all sorts of names thrown at me, one I will happily admit to is being sentimental and when I watched Andrew’s performance, it made me cry.

Yes, a 37 year old man cried.

And what’s more I don’t care.

The thing is I cried because HE IS 13.

I cried because HE IS a victim of bullying.

I cried because HE DOES live on a Council Estate.

And I cried because HE IS seriously, seriously good.

However what really affected me was the look on his face when he heard the judges opinions.

These were people whose comments really mattered to him, people who had the power to crush or liberate him and what they said wasn’t just good, it was great.

As they spoke you could see the weight of his World slowly being lifted off his shoulders and when Simon Cowell passed the final, positive judgement, you could see his life suddenly had colour, hope, and happiness again – all the thing a kid of 13 should have.

Now I know that some people are going to say he’s just a fat kid who can sing and that I’d not feel this way if he came from a better background – and maybe that’s true – however that is his reality and seeing someone triumph over adversity makes me enormously happy because not only do I believe everyone deserves the opportunity to shine, but it is the sort of thing that can help countless others start to believe in themselves and maybe start to take charge of life rather than let life take charge of them.

I’ve written how important I believe optimism is to make the World a better place and as much as I hate these ‘talent’ type shows, when you see something like this happen, you realise their purpose is much bigger than just a production line for new singers.

I was lucky.

I had fantastic parents and fantastic mentors – people who encouraged me and believed in me so that when I faced an obstacle, they helped me help myself through it.

I never realised how lucky I was till much later but I was very lucky indeed.

Everyone deserves to have this sort of support system because everyone has – or should have – the potential to succeed in some way.

And when I say succeed, I don’t mean interms of fame or fortune, I mean interms of fulfilment and happiness, though given the way even schools and universities are acting, I can see why we may have lost sight of that.

I appreciate I’m being all hippyshit again but I cannot tell you how important I think this is – and if I, at 37, still crave to hear words of encouragement and support from people who matter … people who want me to succeed on my own terms … people who lead by example not just by words … then I cannot imagine how impactful it could be on a kid of 13 in Newcastle.

I really don’t know where I’m going with this post, I just wanted to write it.

Maybe it’s because I’m fed up of how brands have forgotten the power and importance of emotion.

If they’re not communicating the ‘lowest common denominator’ they are trying to make ‘vulgar displays of wealth’ something to aspire to or worse still, trying to make everything aspirational/elitist.

And yet I sit in countless meetings where they not only talk about emotion, but how their brand is an important part of people’s lives.

The sad thing is, there are countless brands that really could be important in people’s lives … not just interms of the category they operate in, but life on a broader scale … but when we live in a World where strategy is only important until they can see another way to make a quick buck, then the laziness of brands is there for all to see.

Here’s to you Andrew, you have no idea how much impact you have probably made without a single vision statement, brand proposition or self-indulgent creative execution and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

[PS: I wrote this post yesterday – when Emah left – which probably explains why it’s so slushy, ha]

57 Comments so far
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Personally I don’t understand or care how this young boys talent links to advertising but it’s a beautiful story written by a kind, gentle, sensitive man.
I acknowledge by saying that I have contravened some silly macho rule, but I don’t subscribe to that rubbish especially as I know how you boys behave away from this blog.
Great writing Robert and love to you and Jill from all the Bryant girls.

Comment by Mary Bryant

for someone who manages to intimidate mr hill over dinner, you are such a softy!

great story. here’s hoping he doesn’t become the next charlotte church. (sorry, i had to bring it back to an appropriate level of cynicism)

Comment by lauren

Stop fucking up my hard man image Mary, just because everyone knows George is “lovely” doesn’t mean I want everyone to see me as auntie andy 🙂

i would fucking love to rip the piss out of you for this post but i cant because its great and written from the heart. i dont agree with everything but the bits about everyone needing an encourager, too much advertising is lacking emotion and brands are ignoring their bigger opportunity is fucking bang on.

youre a sensitive sod campbell, but youre my sensitive sod

Comment by andy@cynic

god i fucking love you lauren

Comment by andy@cynic

Wow Rob, this is some post.
I get fed up of brands who talk about their own importance but fail to do anything that will encourage people to come to that same conclusion by their own accord.
The reason why the clip of Andrew is so powerful is because you can see his genuineness shining through. The video is a bit schmaltzy and his background situation does draw out the viewers emotions but that’s down to the television producers because Andrew remains vulnerable and innocent.
Triumph over adversity is a Hollywood stalwart but that’s because there’s millions of Andrew’s around the World which is why I still think Coke were mad to turn down your film production idea because if a cynical old man can feel inspired by the plight of a 13 year old choir boy then imagine how many lives they could have touched if they’d created films that helped light the optimism fuse that lies within us all.
Great post Rob even if Sarah now is going to spend the evening talking about how nice you are 🙂

Comment by Pete

You are one of the most romantic men I’ve ever met Andy so if you want me to keep quiet about some of the things you’ve done I would quietly suggest you stop picking on my delightful husband or your “hard man” image comes tumbling down.
The kids are looking forward to seeing you both on Sunday, maybe I should video the true you for all to see 🙂

Comment by Mary Bryant

Hello Mr Crybaby.
Did you shed tears at Billy Elliot?
Thank you

Comment by Billy Whizz

god i fucking love you mary.

oh, and you too andy 🙂

Comment by lauren


Comment by andy@cynic

If the alternative was marrying you in your blog persona, then yes I would be Andy.
I’m getting the video camera out to recharge.

Comment by Mary Bryant

I’d quit while you’re semi-ahead Andy, you know this is a battle you cannot win.

This is a great post Robert and hopefully my children will never want for love, support or encouragement in their lives. With you in our lives, I doubt it.

Comment by George

Is Mary the new Emah but taller?

Comment by Billy Whizz

the new george bush but smaller?

ok you win mary, i surrender, congratulations you evil lovely wonderful bitch 🙂


Comment by andy@cynic

Jesus, within a few comments this post – a post that meant alot to me – goes back to ‘type’.

Well at least it stops me becoming all high and mighty, ha!

And to answer your question Billy, yes I did – like an absolute baby – in a cinema, on my own, late one Saturday night.

But I only cried at two bits …

1/ Where he and his Dad finally bonded over his desire to dance

2/ Where his Dad looked at his sons performance with humble pride in his eyes.

In my defence, my Dad had only recently passed away and it just brought back how much I missed him, his support and my love of making him proud.

Feel guilty now? 🙂

Comment by Rob

thats billy with his tail between his legs then.

been talking guilt trip lessons from my exes again campbell?

Comment by andy@cynic

Love the post, Rob. Very inspiring words, and equally inspiring story on Andrew.

Comment by Mark

How can it be a guilt trip if it’s true?

If he doesn’t like the answer, he shouldn’t ask the question!

[Now THAT is a classic guilt trip statement! 🙂 ]

Comment by Rob

My grand daughter celebrated her 4th birthday a few days ago. This got me thinking of all the things that are here today that weren’t when I was born some 60 years ago. People Power Granny wonders if these advances have brought humanity together and improved our understanding of one another, or have we become more divided from one another? I think this is an enticing question.

Comment by People Power Granny

Great post Rob. A friend sent me that vid yesterday also, and i will admit I was moved by it. Then today i read this:

Makes me wonder how I would react if that talented boy was my son.

Comment by Age

Great point Age, and I have to say I worry how I’d react in a similar situation because while I’d want to hurt anyone who was hurting my child, I know all I’d really be doing is bullying – which would undermine my view that it is so wrong.

Comment by Rob

Nice & Honest post and glad that you write stuff like this. You’re a nice bloke 🙂

Comment by Bhakar

An excellent post Robert and you highlight an interesting point about communication lacking any real emotion because I have also have felt this way recently.

If we are right then who to blame for this situation could be debated till the cows come home but I feel there are 3 key elements

One: many organisations don’t understand how their product attributes can be expressed from a customers emotional standpoint so push for a more functional approach wrapped up in “aspirational lifestyle” imagery because they think this gives them the best of both Worlds.

Two: many clients, agencies and planners put too much emphasis on purely functional or usage insights which automatically drives a more functional approach to communication.

Three: too much creative is focused on eye candy rather than heart candy.

I have been charged with falling into some of these traps recently (thank you Robert) and I am sure the clever people on this blog will disagree with me or suggest other elements like lack of training, minimal collaboration, shareholder pressure but regardless of the reason, I feel real emotion in advertising is disappearing which is why your Schweppes ad still makes me feel good even if it just is 30 seconds of balloons bursting.

Comment by Lee Hill

I say “real emotion” because much of today’s advertising is contrived or overly exaggerated.

Comment by Lee Hill

How easily you are sucked into my evil web Bhakar, ha! How are you? You OK?

Thanks for your comment Lee – very interesting.

I must admit I don’t know if all the issues regarding emotion in advertising fits into those 3 groups – but I certainly do agree with the points you raised.

Of course there is still some great emotionally driven communication [and brands] out there, however I also feel that because business has become so focused on the bottom line, we are expected to create communication that drives immediate response – which is all well and good but quite often leads to the ‘brand’ element being completely ignored which in these days of product parity is foolish as that can help drive longer-term profit through deeper consumer belief.

Of course it doesn’t have to sales or brand, communication can be made that links these two elements seamlessly together – and I think our ‘Beauty Sleep’ commercial did just that – however to get people to fulfill business requirements without resorting to price, I do believe a deeply felt emotional driver [probably linked to the brand in some way] will be the difference between great and good.

I know this is making me look a hypocrite given I dislike the Cadburys’ ads – especially truck – but as I said on my post, my problem with that stuff is the emotions they are conveying are so loosly connected to the brand that it’s commercial value is more to do with Cadbury’s incredible distribution than the ads.

But I know others will disagree. As usual 😉

Comment by Rob

More effective than all the brand consultants in the world is not much of a claim. “It ain’t over till the fat boy sings” is more like it and while I can’t help but suspect that the show has over-egged the backstory, I am not one to belittle verbal bullying. Especially given my treatment here.

Nice heart-felt post Rob – though of course the inestimable Mr. Hill trumps it all with that brillaint heart-candy phrase.

Comment by John.

And more Mary please. Full of sense and able to unbalance the cynic alpha males. That’s impressive.

Comment by John.

Fat boy sings?


And creeping to Lee won’t get you any freebies, how many more times do I have to tell you John?

Comment by Rob

So CJ isn’t enough of a replacement for Emah eh John? Now you’re going after the wife of my business partner.

Nice – you’re the ‘Shane Warne’ of marketing but without the tan.

Comment by Rob

I’m sure others can see that the fat boy singing reflects the triumph of the underdog (who sadly was no doubt taunted about his physique as well as his singing) having the last laugh.

I am not going after anyone’s wife and I’m certainly not impinging on the beautiful future that lies ahead for George Mary and Lauren.

And who said anything about replacement?

Comment by John.

With postrationalisation like that, you should be a planner. At McCaan’s.

Comment by Rob

Wonderful post Rob.

John’s point about the show the backstory being over-egged is the impression I get as well. But I don’t care. It’s a lovely story and I want to believe it’s real 100%.

If only a fraction of today’s commercial communication could evoke a fraction of the emotion that clip does. If only. Too much of advertising/communication today is trying to explain that brands/products move people by telling them so rather than trying to move the actual audience.

Comment by fredrik sarnblad

Amazing. I was equally blown away when I saw Paul Potts’ first appearance.
I think there a few things to it: The audience was hoping for both Paul and Andrew to do well, out of sympathy and, say it, pity. You can tell whether the audience is not relieved but totally surprised (feel the gasp!), because nobody saw THAT coming. And it turns out Paul and Andrew do not need pity but a stage.

A general observation I find the best lesson is that when you do something you love, with passion, you will be comfortable and you will do good. (In the moment the music started I thought Andrew and Paul became different persons)
But everybody wants to BE a superstar rather than DO, MAKE, BUILD something with their heart.
So many brands want to be superstars like Nike and this is why most ad breaks feel like the first audition round of Pop Idol.
I would see that as the lesson for advertising.

Comment by Jonathan

I think the clip is schmaltzy because of the usual ‘ring-it-for-all-its-worth’ attitude of commercial television producers.

Andrew and his story are definitely true so I hope people recognise his bravery because otherwise he again is an innocent victim of others prejudices.

Comment by Robert

But the thing is Jonathan, I don’t think Paul or Andrew want to be a superstar – I just think they want to do what they love and anything else is a bonus.

The problem with too many brands is they seek ‘short-cuts’ to fame … and while you could quite rightly argue that’s what ‘BRITAINS GOT TALENT’ offers people, I think the genuine nature of the two contestants you mention separates them from the hungry, ambitious wankers that generally populate the competition.

Fame used to be a byproduct of doing something great, too many people and brands just seek the glory which is why an APPLE will beat an LG regardless of how much money they pump into ads.

And thank god for that 😉

[PS: I know you have basically said what I’ve just blathered on about Jonathan, forgive me, I’ve had no sleep and don’t even know my name at the moment!]

Comment by Robert

Yes, I meant just that.
“Want to BE” vs. “Want to DO”.

And your name is Robert Campbell. 😉

Comment by Jonathan

No wonder you won the last A[P]SOTW thing …

Comment by Rob

poor robbie bobby, are you exhausted from writing blogs posts all day?

why dont you put your feet up and have a little rest by doing some real work you lazy moaning fucking shit

Comment by andy@cynic

I like the pace in that last comment Andy. Started slowly – then turned into a great big fucking steam train.

You should be in advertising.

[cue shed joke]

Comment by Marcus

i should be in a fucking pub

Comment by andy@cynic

Had I not seen it on trailers I think I probably would have cried too.

You don’t get that good without hard work, and I really hope to god that once his voice breaks he can still sing like that, just in a lower register.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

what you mean mortimer is you hope he doesnt turn into aled fucking jones.

he wont because even if his voice turns to shit he still wont be fucking welsh.

Comment by andy@cynic

Well done Andy, you started my day with a smile – wonders will never cease! 🙂

Comment by Rob

what the fuck?! from someone who signs off on other blogs with cynical rob…you bought that crap? sure sweet story and everything…but completely engineered by the producers, surely. i abhor any bullying and the guy’s talented but that whole thing was completely constructed for a tv audience to tug at your little heart strings. that program is about ratings ratings ratings, now augmented by your sob story…so what dark shit you got on michael grade or ant & dec to get away with this sentimentality?

Comment by thom thumb

Hahaha, I like that – good point.

As I said previously, the clip is schmaltzy because ‘ring-it-for-all-its-worth’ television producers have played on Andrew’s situation for their own ratings agenda.

What this has resulted in is people like you now seeing him as some sort of ‘fake’ which is tragic because the kid and his story are genuine and now he’s becomes another victim of circumstance.

I’m cynical about the way the media have latched onto the kid, but I’m heartened by how the kid is triumphing over adversity – with or without mass media attention.

And I haven’t got anything on Michael Grade or those 2 twats, but I have on Sue Lawly if you are interested 😉

Comment by Rob

ooh sue lawly go on then.

fair enough…but ‘people like you’…no. i don’t see him as a fake and i wasn’t criticising him. My anger, like yours by the sound of it, is how he is used to tug at the the nations heart strings in order to get a huge audience to boost itv’s profits through some phone in voting system.

anyway, i think we’re kind of saying the same thing

Comment by thom thumb

Sorry, I didn’t mean “People Like You” to come out like I was calling you scum, I just meant people who feel this situation came across as rather contrived – which is does of course, but through no fault of the little kid.

Comment by Robert

tom just hates kids, don’t you tom?

Comment by lauren

ha! no i love the little bastards really.

but i just wish this kid was able to demonstrate his talent in an arena untainted by cocks like simon cowell and piers morgan…talent that could be appreciated and enjoyed without a bunch of footnotes

Comment by thom thumb

I think Tom was one of the bully’s of Andrew and is just pissed 😉

Comment by Robert

oh fuck i’ve been completely rumbled now!

Comment by thom thumb

You fucking bully Tom …

Comment by Robert

outed online…shut it or i’ll divert my bullying tendencies to elsewhere.

Comment by thom thumb

Outed online?

In that case I’ll see if I can get the same result with another Thom, T[h]om Cruise!

Boom Tish!

Comment by Robert

boom tish indeed…this blog along with my new BDA contract has been a great help in curing my insomnia tonight…til the next time.

thom ‘bully’ thumb

Comment by thom thumb

Night night – glad we could bore you to sleep 😉

Comment by Rob

well said Mr Campbell. Well said.

Comment by john c

[…] so as we all know I’m a sucker for triumph over adversity [though tragically the little boy in the ad died afterwards] however what I like about it – and why […]

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